Welcome to the Paragraphs of Power Grand Final. Voting is now open (See the right hand column) Five fabulous entries for your reading enjoyment.
The winner will have a work of their choosing featured on this blog for the entire month of August; together with a guest blog on any topic they wish to discuss. PLUS a $25.00 Amazon gift card.
#3 Revenge Is Double Edged.
A shot rang out and Dexter instinctively dropped to his knees in the hot sand, whilst reaching for his gun. Sudden realisation hit him, it was a car back firing close by and he relaxed. Reaching down for his towel Dexter began to dry the sea water from his lithe bronzed body. A young woman in a colourful sarong, and overly large sun glasses, sat up to watch him discreetly, from a distance. Regardless of her personal preferences she would have happily licked his salty body dry. Instead she lay back down and let her imagination do the work.
Dexter had the body of a thirty something year old although he was in reality forty nine. His body drove Joanna wild and she would kiss his long black fringed eyelashes regularly as they made sweet steamy love at every given opportunity. Ah Joanna …!
He sighed deeply and lay out on the sand oblivious to the surroundings. Maybe the heat of the sand on his back would take the pain away but he doubted it. Nothing would. Closing his eyes he shut out the world and some of the heat of the noon day sun.
His thoughts were interrupted by a nearby Jamaican family catching up on gossip and relating their experiences of a trip to England. He tried to ignore it but …
“I jus hoff a de plane from Hengland.
Me a suffa from jet lag you see but me dida haf ti mek dis ya trip.
Praise de lawd! I reach home safely from Hengland”.
Annoying though it was, he couldn’t help but smile at the local patois. He had even picked up some of it himself. As Chief of Police he came up against all kinds of people and it was necessary to be able to converse easily with everyone.
He placed his old straw hat over his eyes and let his mind wander. Two years ago he had been offered the chance of a secondment in this paradise. He and his girlfriend Joanna had jumped at the chance. She had given up her job as a senior nurse to join him and they had made a commitment to marry at some point once they had settled.
Dexter was impatient though as always, and had started to make his own plans for their special day. His job dictated irregular hours and he used this to his advantage.
Nothing would be too good for his beautiful sensuous Joanna.
The adjacent island was overrun with drug dealers, and gangs who deliberately flouted the law selling them openly on the streets. Dexter was aware of the minions. His objective
though was to concentrate all efforts on infiltrating and dismantling the hierarchy of the drugs organisation. The man he was after was Delice Dujon known locally as ‘De Man‘, He was probably one of the most sadistic men Dexter had ever come across. Torture and decapitation were just run of the mill to him. Not that he did his own dirty work, he paid others handsomely to do it whilst also buying their silence. He demanded loyalty to the enth degree. Only one man had ever crossed Dujon and he was now minus his right hand and both feet and he considered himself lucky to still be alive.
Dexter had only had Dujon in custody on one occasion but had had to let him go on a technicality.
The local paper had jumped on the story and then the mainland newspapers picked it up,
‘Jamaica Police hold Drugs Baron Delice Dujon’
Then there was the usual retraction splashed all over the front page with derogatory comments by Dujon.
As he signed Dujon’s release papers all the usual taunts came, but Dexter was immune. It came with the territory of rank in the Police.
He swore on his own life. He would have him behind bars before he left the island.
The sound of the surf breaking around him reminded him of the wedding. What a wonderful wedding it had been, a day to remember all his life. It had all been arranged within eight weeks of coming to the island. He had decided on a beach wedding in the cool of the evening with just a few friends, followed by a small reception on the beach close to the local beach bar. Music was provided by an impromptu band hired by his police colleagues.
Joanna, a leggy, slim, blonde, came up to the shoulders of his six foot two frame, and was never short of second glances wherever they went. She was proud to be his woman and it showed. She had worn a white transparent dress threaded with silver in the mode of the Grecians and pinned her hair into a similar fashion with a few curls tumbling down to her shoulders. Her feet were bare.
As the evening wore on, curiosity and the rhythmic band brought others to the beach. Always mindful of what was happening around him he’d sent a couple of officers to just ‘check things out’ but they reported only sightseers. Why hadn’t he paid attention to the hairs standing up on his neck? Tears pricked his eyes as he remembered.
Joanna loved the location of the property, situated up in the hills. The view was stunning and there was only one road leading up to their home.
One evening they were eating as usual on the verandah, the heady perfume of the flowers enhancing the wine. Whistling happily Dexter went inside to get another bottle of wine. As he opened the fridge and gripped the neck of the bottle, everything played out in slow motion. A shot rang out and the bottle dropped to the floor smashing, as he abandoned everything and rushed towards the verandah. Joanna lay crumpled on the floor with a bullet wound to the centre of her forehead. . …
When Murphy was a boy, he killed a man.
Now, it’s time to atone.
It won’t be pleasant.
Murphy reclined into the worn club chair. Cool leather a temporary balm to overheated skin. He traced the scuffed, cracked hide with trembling fingers. Though the tremors were imperceptible to the casual observer, he stilled his hand nevertheless.
He needed a drink.
He allowed his gaze to roam the smoky interior of the hotel lobby. Overhead, an ancient, creaking fan tried in vain to bring some relief. Instead of circulating fresh air to the patrons of the Grande’ Hotel, it merely caused ripples and eddies in the layers of stale cigarette smoke hanging above their heads. Murphy idly pondered the effects of passive smoking, mentally pulling the trigger on the fools inhaling lung-full’s as they opened gaping maws, to screech and bawl their demands at the harassed desk clerk.
The lobby was full, which was hardly surprising, given the circumstances. The announcement to evacuate all non-nationals had naturally caused panic among hotel residents, now intent on senseless scrambling for attention, no matter what subsequent chaos ensued. Murphy observed with clinical detachment as regular law-abiding citizens abandon manners and fair-play and bulldozed each other out of the way enroute to the desk. He’d seen far worse, was faintly amused by the feral behaviour and had no doubt, that another hour or so of fighting over the few remaining tickets to freedom, would transform the disorderly expats into something even more disturbing. Already, outside in the stifling heat, the mass evacuation of an entire community was beginning to crumble into disarray, to edge beyond the bounds of reasonable and acceptable behaviour. Exacerbated by the ineptitude of officials who were just as keen, to be first, on the last plane out. Money was changing hands, deals being made and those with nothing to trade were realising to their horror, the true meaning of haves and have-nots.
He checked the time - thirty six hours since he'd slept. Since the call that dragged him up off the bar-room floor and sent him back where he’d no business being. He leant back in the chair and allowed his eyelids to drift shut. Dusty lashes filtering the nicotine neon, instant insulation from the flickering hotel lights and irritating smoke. He zoned out the noise and tricked his body into energy-save mode. He needed a full eight hours, to recover from debauchery and excess, but if a catnap was the best he could do, he could make it work.
He'd been flying for best part of the night, and spent the early hours circling the godforsaken place trying to get permission to land. The airport was in chaos, worse than the hotel lobby, worse than the streets; too many frantic people, trying to get out while there was still time. Runways blocked, ground crew gone to ground someplace else. He recalled the nightmare of landing without assistance from the tower. It was fortunate that Stick had decided to hitch a ride on the flight down from New Mexico. At least Murphy could relax in the knowledge that no one - no matter how desperate - could commandeer the plane in his absence. Not while a guy one step away from the psych-ward was holed up in the cockpit. Stick had a certain skill with a machete that more than made up for his other failings.
Murphy shrugged himself awake, stilled the tremors and fixed his gaze on the man stood before him. A crumpled linen suit, stained with sweat, adhered to his bloated frame. Perspiration ran freely from his brow and he mopped at it ineffectually with an oversized handkerchief. Body odour; barely cloaked by cloying layers of stale alcohol, exuded from his skin, repressed by the humidity.
“Do you...have...the package?” His voice, like his appearance, was disorganised. It spilled out untidily, an ill-formed mixture of reluctant sounds.
Murphy narrowed his eyes and allowed the silence between them to extend beyond acceptable, and the man’s discomfort to fester.
“Do you have the money?” he asked eventually.
The words were quietly spoken and laced with menace. When it appeared the man had either failed to hear or lost the ability to reply, Murphy leant forward to repeat them and the man took a hesitant step back.
Jostled to one side by the crush of the frantic crowd, he struggled to regain his balance. His composure slipped further as he cast an anxious glance through the encroaching melee.
Murphy followed the focus of the man’s apparent paranoia, to the stairs at the rear of the lobby and a retreating figure. He cocked his head and allowed a sly smile.
“Forget it,” he muttered as he pulled himself out of the chair and sidestepped the man. “Go take a pill, take a shower; take a walk. I’m done wasting my time. Let’s hope for all our sakes, that your boss is ready to keep up his end of the bargain.”
#6 Bang On
Guy Douglas grabbed his girlfriend's finely manicured hand and placed it where it would do most good.
'You need to stick it in there,' he said, showing her where there was.
She frowned. 'It doesn't look like it will fit. I'm sure it's too big.'
'It'll go. Don't worry. They are made for each other.'
'It won't go, it's stuck.'
'Yes, it will. Don't be shy. Really shove it!''
'Now it's bending!'
'It's supposed to. Keep going.'
'I don't want to. I might break it!'
'You can't! Put your back into it.'
'Oh...I felt it move; it's going in!'
'Push harder then! Don't let it slip out again. Just a bit more...'
'That's it! It's in! Now what?'
'Make sure it's fully erect.'
'I'll hold it up, you fasten it into place.'
'That's it. Let go, let's see if it will stand up by itself,' he announced after a few moments frantic fumbling.
'Hooray. Well done, sweetie,' Debbie declared. 'That looks grand. What now?'
'Now we do the other side!'
'Can we have a rest first? That was hard work.'
'Just for a minute, but now we've got the hang of it, the rest should be a doddle.'
Fifteen minutes later, the couple stood back and admired their newly erected tent.
'It looks a bit skewiff,' she said, eyeing the canvas edifice critically.
'It will just take a few tugs on the ropes to square it away,' said Guy. 'It's looking pretty good!'
'If you say so. Are you sure we're going to have enough room?'
'Of course we are. Two double bedrooms, one for us, one for your clothes and shoes, and space for the table and chairs. How much more room will you need?'
'An indoor loo would be nice.'
'The toilet tent will be just outside, a few feet away.' He squared his shoulders against her pout. 'What's wrong now?'
'I'm not sure I want to do this. I just don't think it's...me.'
'Of course it is. It's an adventure. Something you haven't done before.'
'Maybe it wasn't such a good idea. I'm used to something more...substantial, preferably with stars. At least five of them.'
'This is substantial. It's guaranteed waterproof, windproof, bugproof...'
She screwed up her freckled nose. 'Bugs! Eww! You didn't mention bugs!'
'We're in the countryside, Debs. There's bound to be some bug or other.'
'And I'll get bitten, I know I will.'
'So what? This is rural Gloucestershire not darkest Africa. You're not going to get the dreaded lurgy, and if you do, you can get some cream from the pharmacy in the village. Most of the creepy crawlies are harmless...'
'It's the ticks you have to watch out for.'
She shifted uncomfortably in her trainers 'Ticks! Where?'
'In the grass.'
She began to hop from foot to foot. 'For God's sake, Guy, why didn't you tell me about any of this before we set off?'
'Because, my love, I knew you would do exactly what you are doing now - making a mountain out of a molehill.' His hand crept around her shoulders and pulled her close to him. 'There is absolutely nothing to be frightened of. It'll be fun. Trust me.' He kissed her forehead. 'We're going to get the full DSS experience - drinkin', screwin' and shootin'. What better weekend could we wish for, eh?'
'Oh, well, if you put it like that...' She pressed her lips to his, at the same time putting her hand to his crotch. 'Let's get to it!'
'Okay then!' He clapped his hands and rubbed them briskly together. 'Now, you be an angel and make us a cup of tea while I hammer in the pegs. It'll be looking like home from home in no time at all, you'll see.'
Debbie rummaged around in the boxy trailer attached to the rear of the Range Rover until she found the small gas stove and the kettle. 'Where's the water?' she asked.
Guy broke off his hammering and looked around the field, now rapidly filling with other campers. He spotted the tell tale blue pipe half hidden in the grass and followed it with his eyes until he saw where it connected to a standpipe. He pointed with the mallet. 'Over there! See.'
Debbie did see and pouted. 'But that's miles.'
'It's about a hundred yards, darling. Remember, it's the green Jerry can for water.'
'What's in the red one?'
'Petrol for the genny. Don't get them mixed up.'
When she returned ten minutes later, Guy had almost finished beating the last of the tent pegs into submission, pulling the guide rope taut and stretching the fabric of the tent until it was as rigid as a drum. He stood up and stretched his back, admired his handiwork and praised himself. 'Excellent! We'll be as snug as two bugs in a rug once we get the beds made up.' He filled his lungs to almost bursting point with fresh country air, clean and sweet, but with a subtle undertone of freshly spread manure. 'We'll sleep like logs, I guarantee it. And tomorrow, we'll lock and load and then...bang on!'
Southern Zaire, Central Africa
Eliot Adams’ blond hair fell over his tanned face. Dark blue eyes took in the hostile environment as he led his squad of government conscripts. For seven days there had been no sign of the rebel force they hunted. The heat of the early morning sun awakened the animals, their noise masking any made by the men.
He stopped, signaled with his left hand and shaded his eyes. Ten clicks confirmed safety catches released. A large man emerged from the trees and they spoke before the other returned to his position.
The trees ended, a vast desolate land lay in front of them. Their route led across this bleak expanse. Scattered groups of boulders littered the ground as spirals of dust grew and collapsed in the hot wind.
Eliot remained sharp, his eyes sweeping the terrain for threats. He turned and checked his men; their combat uniforms soaked, stained and stinking with days’ old sweat. He indicated and they separated, crouching at the rear of boulders. Irregular stripes of cream camouflaged dirty, unshaven faces. His squad readied weapons as a precaution.
A shadow distracted Eliot. “Nothing behind,” said Bear Morris. “Problems?”
“Gut feeling,” said Eliot, as he raised his binoculars. His sight flitted from one spot to another. A flash of sunlight caught his attention. Suddenly a heavy machine gun opened fire. “Shit.”
An assault of bullets whistled, droned and flew over their heads. Ricochets rattled off rocks and showered stone splinters. Everyone froze.
Bear leaned towards Eliot. “I think these bastards were waiting for us.”
Eliot and his men remained where they were. The enemy’s location was well chosen, open ground in front, to the rear massive sandstone slabs, a fortress.
He made a rapid calculation. They were over two hundred yards away, too far for perfect accuracy. A volley from the rebels interrupted his thoughts. “Bear, let’s get on with it.” He handed his binoculars to his friend who lay beside him. “What do you think?”
“One, two. No more.”
Eliot pointed. “I’m going over there to get a better shot. Sergeant, when I start, I want every man to fire and hit that gun emplacement.” His squad stayed low while he altered position.
He slithered on his stomach, working his way through the rocks and scrub grass. His movements conveyed no urgency. Twenty minutes later he found a spot near enough and managed to squat. He raised his AK47 to his shoulder, held his breath and placed his forefinger on the trigger. The foliage-covered slit, no more than four inches in height, displayed in his cross hairs. The heat rising from the baked earth shimmered in the air. Sweat ran from his forehead into his eyes. Suddenly there came a hail of gunfire. With conviction he set his weapon to automatic and opened fire.
His squad blasted the dugout. The ground shuddered as the barrage struck. Their magazines empty they reloaded.
Ten minutes elapsed, the silence nerve racking.
In his own language, the sergeant shouted orders. Firing from the hip, he and his men charged.
“Freeze,” screamed Eliot. “Stand fucking still.” The Sergeant bellowed the order.
Regular army training taught Eliot to look for the unexpected. He could see it now. Hot, swirling wind had shifted the dust. Dark-grey lids stood out in the light-coloured soil.
The rebel leader had set the trap well.
Eliot looked on powerless, as one man ran discharging his weapon. Fear pumped adrenalin into the man’s body. A brilliant flash and explosion shredded his legs. Blood drained from minced stumps. The soldier dragged his bloodied carcass across the ground, a dark trail staining the dry earth. He died when his hand found another mine.
Shrapnel showered the squad. Ragged wounds erupted on arms and chests. No one moved.
Eliot dashed back. He removed his pack. “Bear, you know what to do if this goes tits up.”
Bear shaded his eyes and in his deep gravelly voice said, “Does that mean I’m being promoted?”
“Get behind those rocks and shut the fuck up.”
Eliot dropped to his knees and brushed the surface with his hand, searching. With a thin-bladed knife he painstakingly probed. On finding a mine he eased it from the earth and placed it to one side. The sun’s unrelenting heat torture. On reaching a trooper, he signalled for him to walk back along his track. Four anxious hours elapsed before every man rested.
Shattered, he staggered into the damaged rebel dugout. His sense of victory, momentary. On the ground lay a girl, no older than ten. Blood seeped from multiple wounds. He tore his eyes away. “Why are we killing kids?”
“Because they pay us,” said the sergeant.
Eliot shook his head. “I’m a professional. I don’t wage war against children. Destroy the weapons and blow the ammo. Then we leave.”
Eliot sat on a rock next to Bear Morris and looked at this giant of a man. He picked up a water bottle and drank the warm liquid. “I don’t need this. What are we doing here?”
“Time we changed jobs,” Bear replied, shrugging.
“My friend, you and I enjoyed army life. It’s what makes us tick, but this....” He grimaced. “We’ve certainly seen what this life offers.”
A solitary cloud journeyed across the sun and a chill passed through him. His insides tightened and he vomited. He checked the time on his cheap digital watch; a few minutes past one in the afternoon.
“My men want to bury Samuel,” said the sergeant.”
Eliot glanced up at half a dozen vultures. “Nature has a better idea. Your decision.”
He nodded and strolled away.
With the rebels’ weapons destroyed, Eliot asked, “How are the men?”
“A few nasty cuts but nothing that won’t mend,” said the sergeant. “Field dressings fixed the worst.”
“That’s good. Get them together,” ordered Eliot. “We have a plane to catch.”
The squad heaved on their packs and started walking.
#11 ... Some Mysteries.
Some mysteries never get solved.
Such as what happened to the ‘Mary Celeste’. Or who was Jack the Ripper? Why was Kennedy assassinated? Who killed Kathy Leedon?
A more immediate mystery, however, was being presented to me by Mrs Travers. Specifically, what on earth was she talking about?
“Of course, we could ask Mr Johnson. He has had some experience, of course. But we all agreed that would be very awkward for everyone – after what happened before, of course.”
“What happened before?” I broke in. If I could just get hold of one loose thread and pull, perhaps the entire ball of confusion might unravel.
“Oh, that was before you moved here… now Elsie – Elsie Graham, she’s on the committee - she suggested we get John Arbuckle to come over – but that didn’t seem right, somehow – he’s not really been part of our community for such a long time, after all.”
“Millie would love to do it, of course, but she’s far too busy with her family and all the Sunday school work…”
“That’s your daughter – Millie Fairburn?”
Mrs Travers frowned slightly. “Yes, of course.” She seemed ready to berate me for failure to pay attention, but decided against it. This confirmed my fear that, whatever she was talking about, she was going to ask me to be involved.
“And the committee?”
“Well, none of us are really up to it anymore, are we? Poor Elsie is practically housebound now. Greta is becoming very frail, and of course George won’t leave her side, dear man! And while I can get about a bit, I’ve never been one for doing the up-front stuff. Not really my vocation, as you might say! I’m much better off working in the background, doing some of the organising!”
She did have something of a reputation for that. I should have realised that sooner or later she would attempt to tangle me in her organisational web.
I had, at least, gained a partial insight into her mission. All the persons mentioned were, in some way or another, part of or connected with the Chapel.
“So it was such a blow to us when Patrick had his accident! And so hard for him – it’s been such an important thing in his life!”
She gave me a hard look. “Well, obviously!”
Patrick Key had recently slipped in the bath, or something equally conventional, and sustained a broken leg. Since he was in his seventies, the recovery was likely to be protracted.
“We were at our wit’s end, Mr. Leedon, our wits end – then I thought of you! And we all agreed that you would be the perfect choice!”
“The perfect choice for what, exactly?” I finally managed to get to the point.
“Well the Prayer Walk, of course! What did you think we were talking about?”
The Prayer Walk, of course.
The first time it happened, it had probably been quite radical. Chapel members walking round the area, stopping at various points to pray for local people, local projects. A way to get prayer into the community, a way to get the Chapel involved in prayer. It must have been a great idea, the first time.
Such a great idea that it had been done every year since, and even had its own committee to organise it. All of whom, it seemed, were barred by age, infirmity or other commitments from actually taking part.
Mr. Key, I gathered, had led the walk for the last few years – ever since the unfortunate incident with Mr Johnson, whatever that had been – while the rest of the committee prepared tea and biscuits in the Chapel. But since he was now sadly included amongst those of limited mobility, I was being asked to take up this particular cross. Just for this one time, of course. Hopefully, Patrick would be fit and well and able to take up his duties again next year.
Mentally, I snorted in derision. When it came to jobs in the Chapel, there was no such thing as ‘just this once.’ I wondered if Patrick had been driven to break his own leg as the only means of escape.
Some mysteries were better off not solved, I thought sadly, as I said good bye to Mrs. Travers. The Prayer Walk itinerary and list of suggested prayers, pushed firmly into my reluctant hands like a served writ, testified to the blissfulness of ignorance.
Perhaps I should have taken that as a warning. Instead, I returned to the chain of thought that Mrs. Travers had broken.
Some mysteries (I had been thinking) are unsolved because there just isn’t enough information. The Mary Celeste, for example. No witnesses and rudimentary forensic science to search for clues. Plenty of speculation, of course, and some very likely and plausible theories – but nothing definite.
A similar story with Jack the Ripper. The mystery surrounding his identity had been increased by the huge amount of attention directed at it. A quick Google search brought up twenty seven suspects. And there was always the hint of a deliberate cover up, because Jack had actually been someone important…
Even more so with the Kennedy assassination. No lack of forensic evidence there. Such a huge mass of it, in fact, constantly being re-examined and re-evaluated, that any sort of truth was probably now buried beyond discovery.
But Kathy’s murder was a different thing altogether. She wasn’t a celebrity. Her death wasn’t part of a series. There had been forensic work done, of course. The crime scene was examined, an investigation was carried out, there was a post mortem. And it made the national news, briefly.
But it was quickly overtaken by greater events. The coroner recorded a verdict of death by ‘person or persons unknown’. There was no media frenzy, no mass speculation, and no wealth of contradictory theories. A year on, and it was all but forgotten. Except by her father.
A simpler, purer mystery, to my mind.